Ruling Bars Foreigners From Consulate Suits

By Staff Reporter of the Sun
April 25, 2008

Foreign nationals arrested in New York City but not told of their right to communicate with their consulate cannot sue for money damages, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

Had the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the other way, it would have opened the door to lawsuits from foreign nationals who are dealt with according to New York's laws but never given access to consular officials from their home country.

Under the Vienna Convention of 1963, countries must pass along communications from incarcerated foreigners to their consulate and inform detainees of their right to write to consular officials. The question the case before the 2nd Circuit poses is what happens when a state fails to do so.

That question in a slightly different context was the subject of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Medellin v. Texas , which was decided last month. In that case, a Mexican national, Jose Medellin, was convicted and sentenced to death for the gang rape and murder of two teenage girls, but sought to have his case reopened because he was never informed of his right to notify the Mexican consulate of his detention. Ruling against a court decision from the Hague, as well as a request of the Bush administration, the Supreme Court declined to force Texas to grant Medellin another hearing.